Kenya’s preparations for August 9 general elections face an international problem in keeping false news off the campaign platforms.
Misinformation, experts warn, could likely lead the country back to the old ways of violence after the election, if it is not nipped in the bud. Ahead of the election to replace resigning President Uhuru Kenyatta, it has become even more difficult to distinguish fake from fact as social media has taken over political campaigning.
The National Cohesion and Integration Commission has a list issued with language politicians are said to use but could incite.
Jodie Ginsberg of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says fact-checking in the Kenyan situation is difficult because the owners of social media -Platforms don’t usually react quickly to problems in developing countries.
“Some of these companies don’t even have representatives who speak the local language. How on earth are you supposed to address these challenges?” She recently posed at a panel discussion on ‘Fake or Fact’, part of German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle’s (DW) Global Media Forum in Bonn.
“These companies tend to react when they seeing that there is political capital. You’ve been trying to change things in the US, especially after the January 6 attack on the Capitol, but we don’t see similar action in other countries and I worry about what will happen in the upcoming elections, because unless these companies take further action to combat misinformation and disinformation, we will potentially see much greater violence in elections around the world.”
Misinformation, the dissemination of false or misleading information to publicity, sometimes deliberately meaning to deceive and gain some advantage, is not new to Kenyan politics. In April, internet company Mozilla tracked down more than 30 Tiktok accounts that had posted videos containing hate speech, hate speech, and other misleading information.
Odanga Madung, the Mozilla researcher, said at the time that 130 videos In fact, it’s a violation of Tiktok’s own Acceptable Use Policy, which prohibits discrimination, incitement, and misinformation, indicating that the social media platform itself was unable to determine what should be considered correct. Tiktok removed some of the offending videos after Mozilla’s report. However, the lack of moderation skills has not been addressed, including hiring people with local knowledge of the language and context in which the videos will be posted. In Bonn, panellists argued that gaps make it difficult to filter out false information on Kenyan elections, which could lead to problems.
“It’s not enough to download the videos,” said Asha Mwilu of Debunk Media in Kenya, one of the platforms involved in the campaign against misinformation.
“There needs to be a conversation about these issues, the algorithms and content moderation,” she added, referring to a recent one New York Times story showing how Facebook moderators in Kenya were paid little despite the mammoth job of filtering content.
Facebook itself was used by the now-defunct Cambridge Analytica and Kenyan politicians in the 2017 elections to target rivals to be discredited in a series of pre-planned messages that appeared on the platform around the campaign season. Following revelations, Cambridge Analytica ceased operations and Facebook announced a campaign to clean the platform of counterfeits. This time, Kenya’s main political coalitions admit that false information is still being spread, despite accusing rivals of being behind it.
“It’s a worrying thing, but as the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition, we tend to be correct and correct the record. Of course, lies seem sweeter than the truth,” Ndiritu Muriithi, Laikipia County Governor and Chair of Raila Odinga’s Presidential Campaign Committee, told The EastAfrican.
“To deal with this threat, we as Kenya must have Kwanza Alliance formed a communications team to correct and set the facts straight when lies are spread against us by our opponents,” argued Daniel Rono, MP, from DP Ruto’s camp.
Additional reporting from Onyango K’ Onyango